Princeton vs. Harvard football preview

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(Photo © Beverly Schaefer)

Princeton (1-4, 0-2 Ivy) at
Harvard (3-2, 2-0 Ivy)
Oct. 24, noon
Harvard Stadium
Cambridge, Mass.

In this year’s Princeton-Harvard matchup, most signs favor the Crimson. They enter the game 2-0 in Ivy League play and feature the league’s top rushing attack. The Tigers, 0-2 against Ivy teams, have struggled on offense and are now without their two most valuable players, senior captains Scott Britton and Jordan Culbreath, who were sidelined for the year by injury and illness.

But Princeton linebacker Steve Cody ’11 has high hopes for the Tigers’ defense. “I think our defense is suited to play against Harvard,” he said. “They like to pound the ball, and I think we respond well to teams that do that, as you saw in the Colgate game. The whole defense is pretty amped up about that challenge.”

Another promising sign for Princeton: Quarterback Tommy Wornham ’12 had the most accurate passing performance of his young career in last week’s loss at Brown, completing 28 of 35 pass attempts. Receivers coach Gary Goff said that Wornham is getting better at throwing to his second or third target when the primary or secondary routes are well-covered.

Culbreath update

Jordan Culbreath ’10 had been diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare and serious condition that occurs when the body stops producing enough new blood cells. He is receiving treatment near his hometown in northern Virginia. Princeton football followers who would like to send get-well wishes can sign the guestbook at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jordanculbreath.

History

This year’s game marks the 102nd meeting of Princeton and Harvard. The series began in 1877 and has been contested annually since 1934, with the exception of a brief hiatus during World War II. No team has given the Tigers more trouble in recent years. Under head coach Roger Hughes, Princeton is 2-7 against the Crimson, including six games decided by a touchdown or less (four losses and two wins). Harvard has won or shared the Ivy championship five times in the last 12 seasons.

Players to watch

Princeton running backs Meko McCray ’11 and Akil Sharp ’13

In last year’s close loss to the Crimson, Princeton ran for 177 yards, 154 of them by Culbreath. This week, McCray and Sharp will split rushing duties, with hopes of rivaling last year’s output. The duo’s best game so far came against Colgate Oct. 8, when McCray gained 74 yards and Sharp had 58. Hughes said that since the Columbia game — the low-point for Princeton’s offense — the backfield has improved, showing more patience in reading defenders and allowing plays to take shape. “We tell our running backs that it’s their responsibility to bring the defense to the blocks,” he explained. “If you cut back too early, you don’t give our line the opportunity to execute the block that we’ve designed.”

Harvard junior defensive back Collin Zych

Zych, a second-team All-Ivy performer last season, ranks second in the league in passes defended and is among the league’s top 10 tacklers. He also has two interceptions this year. If the Tigers hope to break big plays in the running or passing game, they will have to steer clear of Zych. Hughes said that while Harvard’s defense is not particularly complex, the Crimson are “very precise and very disciplined” in their assignments.

Defensive shift

Britton, the Princeton defense’s leader in both statistics and spirit, tore a knee ligament in the Brown game and is out for the season. The defense was designed to let Britton and Cody run free and make tackles, and both players responded, ranking among the Ivy’s top three tacklers. Now, with Britton out, the Tigers will rely on John Callahan ’10, Jon Olofsson ’11, and Jeff Jackson ’10 to fill in at inside linebacker. Cody hinted at another potential change: playing with four defensive linemen and three linebackers, instead of the 3-4 formation that Princeton usually employs.

Roster notes

Reserve safety Matt Wakulchik ’12, who grabbed the first interception of his career last week, has emerged as a key contributor in Princeton’s pass defense. … Punter Joe Cloud ’13 had the Tigers’ best special-teams play against Brown, booting a 60-yard punt that was downed on the Brown 1-yard line. … Wornham has been part of each of Princeton’s six offensive touchdowns this year. He rushed for two scores and passed for the other four.

Around the Ivies

For the next five weeks, it will be all Ivies, all the time as the “ancient eight” completes its league schedule. The top matchup this Saturday may be 1-1 Yale at 2-0 Penn. Brown travels to Cornell for a meeting of 1-1 teams, and 0-2 Dartmouth hosts 1-1 Columbia on homecoming weekend in Hanover.

Final quote

On finding new leaders, without senior captains Scott Britton and Jordan Culbreath on the field: “They were captains for a reason. They have really good leadership characteristics. … [But] we have pretty good chemistry on this team and we have a lot of candidates. Most members on the team could be leaders. It’s just going to be a question of who steps up.”

– Princeton receiver Trey Peacock ’11

Princeton’s probable starters

Offense

Defense

WR 19 – Trey Peacock ’11

LT 75 – Mark Paski ’10

LG 65 – Andrew Mills ’11

C 78 – Andrew Hauser ’10

RG 76 – Marc Daou ’10

RT 72 – J.P. Makrai ’10

TE 48 – Harry Flaherty ’11

WR 9 – Andrew Kerr ’11

QB 7 – Tommy Wornham ’12

TB 29 – Meko McCray ’11

FB 25 – Matt Zimmerman ’11

K 99 – Ben Bologna ’10

DE 92 – Matt Boyer ’11

NT 91 – Kevin DeMaio ’12

DE 85 – Joel Karacozoff ’10

LB 50 – John Callahan ’10

LB 51 – Steve Cody ’11

LB 45 – Jon Olofsson ’11

LB 56 – Brad Stetler ’10

CB 3 – Cart Kelly ’10

S 17 – Wilson Cates ’10

S 18 – Dan Kopolovich ’10

CB 23 – Glenn Wakam ’11

P 41 – Otavio Fleury ’12

or 31 – Joe Cloud ’13

 

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